This story provides a lovely balance to the usual news of tragedy, racism and violence that (sadly) dominates this blog.
The positive light it sheds on San Francisco also provides an encouraging balance to the depressing news that came through earlier this month – that California has made criticism of the government of Israel illegal, at least in its Universities!
No wonder San Francisco is my favourite place on the US West Coast!
From here to Palestine
by Zahir Janmohamed
Oct. 16, 2012
Of the many things I adore about San Francisco, one of them is that the word “Palestine” is not treated like Voldermort’s name, the one that dare not be uttered. You can say you are Palestinian here and no one will freak out. San Franciscans, most of them at least, will not tell you — as Newt Gringrich did — that your culture is invented, or that your identity (or your struggle) is not a valued part of the tapestry of this city.
I am not used to this. I spent the past nine years living in Washington DC, where I became accustomed to meeting Arab shop owners who dodged questions about their country of origin. Some feared a backlash from customers. Others worried about government harassment and eavesdropping. One Yemeni shopkeeper near the Pentagon even went as far as creating to-go boxes with Americans flags imprinted on them, the words “we are proud of you” under each flag. Unfortunately, it’s like this now in many cities in the US, where to be Arab, Iranian or South Asian is to abdicate your ethnic identity, to pretend it’s just not there.
That’s not exactly true in San Francisco. This city isn’t perfect and it has its own ugly past and current struggles with racial integration — but San Francisco at least tries to inculcate its motto on all who are lucky enough to live here: just be who you are. You can fly a Palestinian flag outside your business and chances are you may even attract more customers because of it. And if you show up to work wearing a red, white and blue covered hijab or turban in the city, people may very well laugh at you.
Last week I walked through the Mission district interviewing Palestinian American business owners. On Mission Street, I saw my friend Ashraf sitting on a bar stool at the café he opened two years ago. The San Francisco born Palestinian-American, whose parents were born outside of Jerusalem, wore an SF Giants baseball cap and adjusted it often during our meeting, revealing a full head of hair already graying at the age of 34.
Ashraf remembers car trips with his parents to the Samiramis Grocery just down Mission Street. Samir Khoury, a Palestinian Christian from Ramallah who came to San Francisco in 1953, opened the iconic grocery store in 1972. For the longest time it was the only place where Ashraf’s family could buy zaatar or rent Egyptian movies. It always had everything we had back home, Ashraf says.
Ashraf points out that within a small radius of his cafe, there are a now number of Palestinian owned businesses, including Philz Coffee and Bi-Rite Creamery.
“But no one really knows these are Palestinian owned businesses,” Ashraf says. “And even if they found out, no one would really care.”
I tell Ashraf about a sandwich shop I used to visit in Washington DC where the owner insisted on telling everyone that he was Jordanian. One day the owner pulled me aside and confessed he was really Palestinian from Bethlehem but told people he was Jordanian because he thought it “sounded better.”
When Ashraf hears this he laughs. “It’s not like that here,” he says. “In San Francisco you don’t have to play that act.”
Zahir Janmohamed is a San Francisco writer and former Congressional aide
Highlights are courtesy of Father Roy:
Palestinian Christians swept aside as Israel rewrites history
He vanquished a dragon, saved a princess and passed into myth. What popular culture knows about St George (or Georgius, in Latin) pretty much begins and ends with the children’s fairy tale, but there is a historical figure underneath that legend. Born about 1,800 years ago, St George’s father was a soldier in the Roman army, and his mother was a Palestinian Christian. After his death, he was hallowed by the Catholic Church, but what is less known is that Muslims also venerated his name.
It remains one of history’s curiosities that when European Crusaders invaded Palestine in 1096, they did so under a banner dedicated to a soldier who was born and buried in the Holy Land eight centuries earlier.
Few places on Earth, if any, have inspired so much jealous devotion, not to mention bloodshed, as historical Palestine has over the centuries. More often than not, that blood has been shed by foreign invaders, from both East and West.
After more than 60 years since the Naqba and the start of Israeli occupation, it is natural to be weary of the conflict. It could also be argued that conflict is natural to this land.
But Israeli policy is wreaking a decidedly unnatural consequence. A land that has been home to Christians, Muslims and Jews for millennia is being reshaped.
Evictions of Palestinians from homes and villages increases year by year as Israeli settlements steal more land. It is nothing short of ethnic cleansing. There is serious talk of outright annexation of Area C – 61 per cent of the West Bank – without which Palestine will never be a viable state. Centuries of coexistence may soon be consigned to the history books.
Under the rule of Islamic caliphates since the 7th century, Christians and Jews coexisted with Muslims peacefully for the most part. They were not always afforded the same rights, but they were protected and integrated into society, a marked contrast to the anti-Semitism that persisted in Europe.
The conflict that defined the Holy Land, until the 20th century at least, was the invasion of the Crusaders and so-called clash of civilisations between Muslims and European Christians. Another historical irony is that Jews fought side by side with Muslims in the defence of Jerusalem against the first Crusaders.
The razing of Jerusalem’s Church of Holy Sepulchre in 1009 is seen as the pretext for the European monarchs’ obsession with the Holy Land (although the church was soon rebuilt). What followed less than one century of Crusader rule in Jerusalem, Salaluddin’s retaking of the city in the 12th century and several centuries of intermittent war.
There are still poignant lessons from that history. After the Siege of Jerusalem, Crusaders slaughtered most of the city’s Muslim and Jewish population; after Salaluddin’s victory, Jews and Christians were allowed to settle. And, of course, after centuries of bloodshed, the European incursions were ultimately, completely futile.
After 1948, that land of Palestine became only a historical note, and a dream of Palestinians who were forced from their homes. After the Naksa, the 1967 War, that historical Palestine was further whittled away until, today, less than 22 per cent of the first proposed independent state of Palestine remains. Even that is now under threat.
Palestinian Christians have shared their Muslim compatriots’ pain in the past 64 years, increasingly marginalised in a land they have inhabited for over 2,000 years. Across the region, dwindling Christian communities are often blamed on the rise of Islamists but this is an oversimplification and, in Occupied Palestine, almost wholly a mistake.
Certainly some Islamist groups, heavy on ideology and light on political nous, have been their own worst enemies. Hamas is not blameless in its treatment of Gaza’s Christian minority. Last week, Christians demonstrated after stories emerged that five people, three of them children, had been forced to convert to Islam. The story may just be rumour, but such an act would be indefensible. And Gaza’s Christians are alienated enough to believe it is possible.
In truth, however, Hamas has neither the desire inside Gaza, nor the influence outside of it, to truly marginalise Palestinian Christians. The Christian Palestinian population has suffered, less visibly, just as Muslims have. Christians now account for only 4 per cent of the West Bank population and less than 10 per cent of Palestinians in Israel.
Over the last year in particular, attacks by Israeli extremists on Christians have increased. A Christian cemetery on Mount Zion has been desecrated and two churches vandalised (one of them, Jerusalem Baptist Church, had already suffered arson twice since 1982). “Death to Christianity”, “We will crucify you” and “Jesus son of Mary the whore” graffiti stain the walls. That defilement would cause outrage in almost any country, but not in Israel.
It is in Bethlehem, birthplace of Christ, where the exodus has been most pronounced, with more than 10 per cent of Christians leaving just in the past decade.
Israel’s ill-conceived plan to expand a majority Jewish state in historical Palestine does not distinguish between Palestinian Muslims and Christians. That hollow distinction has allowed Israel to peddle the old line about a “clash of civilisations”, when Palestinians have been living side by side for millennia.
The Palestinian struggle has always been about more than religion. Historical Palestine is not just about 64 years of struggle against an illegal occupation, or Israeli efforts to erase the history books, but about how Muslims, Christians and Jews have lived together for centuries. Palestine, in a modern sense, is not about religion, it’s about justice.
Peers,let’s put our heads together and do some serious thinking. Before we find ourselves in another world war which nobody wants. Please read this report: Israel blames Iran for Bulgaria bombing. Now read this report: Iran blames Israel for Bulgaria Bombing. The Prime Minister of Bulgaria refuses to support either claim. Bulgaria’s position is stated clearly in the paper trail: “We do not want to get involved in this long-standing conflict, as we are very vulnerable.” “Let’s wait for evidence to support such claims.”
A few days ago Netanyahu was pointing his finger at Hezbollah. Nasrallah responded: “Hezbollah doesn’t target Israeli tourists in foreign lands. We target Israel’s military when it’s occupying Lebanon.” Peers, when we think about it, it’s unlikely that an Arab group was responsible for the bombing. Arab groups usually take responsibility for their militant activities, which helps to explain a news report from yesterday: EU refuses Israeli request to blacklist Hezbollah.
Thinking is hard work, Peers, but somebody has got to do it. If not us… who? If not now… when? Please read on. Peace, Roy
Note: The highlights in the following report are mine. I highlighted the concluding paragraph. Peace, Roy
24 July 2012 Last updated at 11:36 ET
Bulgaria blast: Burgas bus bomber ‘part of group’
Israel’s tourism minister paid his respects to the bomb victims at the site of the blast on Tuesday
The suicide bomber who killed six people in Bulgaria last week was part of a sophisticated group of conspirators, Prime Minister Boiko Borisov has said.
He said the group had arrived in Bulgaria a month before the attack.
But he declined to back Israeli claims that Iran and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah played a role.
Five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver died in last Wednesday’s bombing in Burgas on the Black Sea.
The identity of the man who carried out the bombing remains unclear.
As well as those killed, dozens of people were wounded in the blast.
Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov laid a wreath at the bomb site during a memorial ceremony on Tuesday.
Mr Borisov, who was speaking in Sofia alongside White House counter-terrorism chief John Brennan, said the US was supporting Bulgaria’s investigation into the attack.
Mr Borisov did not say exactly how many people had been involved in the conspiracy he described, but he said they had been “exceptionally skilled” and operated under “strict conspiracy rules” to keep the plot hidden.
Those involved used “leased vehicles, they moved in different cities so as not to be seen together, and no two of them can be seen in one place on any security camera”.
“There was absolutely no chance of preventing such an act of violence,” the prime minister insisted.
“We could have only detected it by chance or if we had been informed by the services that such activities were under way in Bulgaria.”
Shortly after the bombing, Bulgarian authorities released CCTV images of the man they believed carried out the bombing, but they appeared to contrast with some witness descriptions.
Mr Borisov said authorities had shared fingerprints and DNA samples with other security services but no match had been found, and the man’s identity remained elusive.
But he added that they knew “when he arrived, the presumed flight and where it came from”, reported AFP news agency.
Mr Borisov also refused to back Israeli claims of involvement by Iran or Hezbollah, saying “we do not want to get involved in this long-standing conflict as we are very vulnerable”.
What Barghouthi says is not new but that doesn’t make it any less tragic. It is simply crazy that a man of his stature should be denied access to the city in which he was born, and what is more obscene is that the ‘West’ turns a blind eye to this legalized racism and indeed finances it! Dave
‘Separate and Unequal’ is unacceptable to Palestinians
By Mustafa Barghouthi, member, Palestinian Parliament
When presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrives in Israel Saturday and travels to occupied East Jerusalem to see the holy sites there he will be entering a city I am no longer allowed to visit – privately or as a medical doctor or as a presidential candidate. He somehow possesses more rights to the city than I do despite the fact that I was born in Jerusalem and worked as a medical doctor in Makassed hospital for several years. During my presidential campaign I was arrested and deported four times for entering the city to meet Palestinian voters.
My enforced absence pains me enormously. And I believe that my inability to enter — and that of hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians — points to the fast-approaching demise of the two-state solution. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his international friends are simply not interested in addressing the dispossession and absence of rights endured by Palestinians.
The demise of the two-state solution is right there with climate change: It’s staring us all in the face. But politicians are either too incompetent to see it, too scared to address it, or too content with a reality that benefits Jewish settlers and harms Palestinians because it works to their political advantage.
Palestinian politicians and civil society leaders have signaled the impending impossibility of two states for several years. Yet too many international observers regard us as the boy who cried wolf. I do not know precisely when a younger generation of Palestinians will decide that two states is an outdated pipe dream of their parents’ generation, nor when Fatah officials will reach the same conclusion. But I do suspect that Israeli moderates and American officials will one day look back at this time period and wonder why Israeli leaders did not seize the moment, freeze settlement activity, and strike a deal with the Palestinian people. Hubris and a zealot’s certainty are likely causes of the Israeli leadership’s inability to see with clear eyes what should be done.
The settler population in the West Bank has grown by 18 percent in Netanyahu’s three-plus years in office. Israel’s hold on the West Bank is increasing and the growing population ensures that no Israeli leader would dare to abide by international law and insist that settlers move out. Recently, the Levy Commission determined that there is not even an occupation of the West Bank, though Israeli, American, and international officials have recognized its reality for years. Netanyahu is reportedly poised to embrace the Commission’s findings.
Levy is, of course, wrong in his legal reasoning. But far more important is what he leaves unsaid. What will be the rights of Palestinians in a West Bank no longer regarded as occupied? Will we be afforded full voting rights or subjected to a system of apartheid?
I fear the latter. In introducing a 166-page report in December 2010, “Separate and Unequal: Israel’s Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” Carroll Bogert, deputy executive director for external relations at Human Rights Watch, stated, “Palestinians face systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity, and national origin, depriving them of electricity, water, schools, and access to roads, while nearby Jewish settlers enjoy all of these state-provided benefits. While Israeli settlements flourish, Palestinians under Israeli control live in a time warp – not just separate, not just unequal, but sometimes even pushed off their lands and out of their homes.”
The Palestinian reality has only deteriorated since then with the Israeli Knesset taking up discriminatory legislation. A New York Times editorial recently noted that “activists say, more than 25 bills have been proposed or passed by the Parliament to limit freedom of speech and of the press; penalize, defund or investigate nongovernmental groups; restrict judicial independence; and trample minority rights.” When Israel sneezes, or gets a bad flu on the rights front, one can be certain that the reality in occupied Palestinian territory is even more dire.
How else can we describe this week’s report that Israel intends to demolish eight Palestinian villages in the West Bank and force the inhabitants to live elsewhere? This is surely a form of ethnic cleansing as it makes way for the Israeli military and perhaps later for settlers to seize land Palestinians have tended for centuries. The proposed demolition is precisely why nonviolent Palestinian and international activists are pressing for divestment from Caterpillar. The company’s equipment is already being used against individual Palestinian homes, but more recently Israel has begun to use it to demolish whole communities.
President Barack Obama’s increasing reticence on Palestinian rights suggests that Israel’s fiercest right-wing advocates have carried the day with the President. He’s now locked in a battle with Romney to prove his hardline, pro-Israel bona fides. And he’s feeling the heat when Romney states, “Well, I think by and large you can just look at the things the president’s done and do the opposite. I mean, you know, you consider his first address to the United Nations, he castigated Israel for building settlements.”
President Obama was right to criticize such law-breaking. It showed wisdom and responsibility and the realization that settlement expansion works against a two-state solution. But Obama’s recent silence and Romney’s seemingly neo-conservative embrace of Israeli expansionism suggest that the prospect of a two-state solution will end during one administration or the other.
If President Obama and Gov. Romney expect Palestinians will meekly accept apartheid then they are quite wrong. A battle for equal rights is looming in the near future because of the arrogance of Israeli and American leaders who are proving incapable of understanding the discriminatory conditions they are creating with the expansion of settlements and ongoing disregard for Palestinian rights.
Barghouthi, a doctor and member of the Palestinian Parliament, is secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party.
Father Roy writes:
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the central problem facing the world today. Thanks to a renowned Jewish historian by the name of Ilan Pappé for telling the truth about the causes of the conflict.
This interview will illustrate the gist of what Pappe teaches at the University of Exeter It’s not a short video, but it’s comprehensive:
Pappe’s work has been both supported and criticized by other historians. Before he left Israel in 2008, he had been condemned in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. A minister of education had called for him to be sacked. His photograph had appeared in a newspaper at the center of a target, and he had received several death threats. A number of Pappe’s essays can be read on the Internet: Ilan Pappe | The Electronic Intifada.